Frank Lampard believes the relentless schedule currently being asked of players, with little or no pre-season preparations and the rule allowing five substitutes per game having been scrapped in the Premier League, means 2020/21 is set to be unique in more ways than one.
With just over five weeks between our final game of last season in Munich and the league opener at Brighton in early September, the window for rest, recuperation and regaining fitness for the new campaign was extremely limited.
The lack of time on the training pitch has been cited by the boss as an additional reason why his evolving team needs patience but it has also had other unfortunate consequences.
It was recently reported the number of muscle injuries in the Premier League had increased by 42 per cent compared with this stage last season, which drew Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola to call for more protection for players.
Lampard agrees and feels a mistake was made to revert back to three substitutes, as opposed to the increased five that were permitted following the post-lockdown restart.
‘I read Pep’s comments and I thought he was absolutely spot-on,’ he said. 'It’s going to be a season like no other and none of us can control that. We can’t control the injuries that come upon us at different times - you cannot always read them, whether they’re impact injuries or muscle injuries, which we’re seeing more than ever for this stage of the season.
‘I think the ball was dropped when the Premier League and clubs turned away from having five subs. We’re clearly in the most unprecedented times and it’s not going anywhere in the short-term. The demands on players are huge at every club and I’m not just talking about my squad, I’m talking about every football player that’s being asked to play day after day and put themselves at injury risk.
‘It’s changed the landscape. We’ll try and manage it as best we can and we’re fortunate that we have a big squad here but at the same time we want to do the best. The pressures are on, the players want to get the right results so it could certainly have a big effect this year, more than any other year.’
It is not just personnel options that Lampard has to manage but flexibility in tactical systems and shapes. In the second half of the midweek win in Krasnodar, the introduction of Mason Mount and N’Golo Kante led to a 4-3-3 being deployed, a change that opened up the game in the middle of the field.
‘It gave us different angles of pass and an idea that we could press higher up the pitch,’ explained Lampard. ‘There were a lot of answers to things I had my own questions on and there were a lot of positives to it.
‘We changed things around at times last year and it’s something that served us well, whether playing three at the back or 4-2-3-1. When you’re bringing new players into the club with versatility in their game, you’re also then trying to find the balance for the whole team and what brings out the best from all the players.
‘I keep saying that normally you have a month or six weeks in America or the Far East to focus on these things but we’re doing that in real time so it’s maybe normal that we’ve had to find different solutions in different games.’